The Power of Pop
My favorite kinds of books to read are the ones that do more than just tell you a story. They do more than just set the scene or paint the picture. The writing I love the most places you into that story, that room, that rain soaked kiss. You can smell the air, hear the sounds, and feel your heart race as the character's does. It's something F. Scott Fitzgerald did so well, to describe a scene so gorgeously interwoven with rich emotional revelations, that you yourself have escaped from your own life for a moment.
I'm highly biased, but I think that the way music can transport you back to a long-forgotten memory is the closest sensation we have to traveling in time. To this day, when I hear 'Cowboy Take Me Away' by the Dixie Chicks, I instantly recall the feeling of being twelve years old, sitting in a little wood paneled room in my family home in Pennsylvania. I'm clutching a guitar and learning to play the chords and sing the words at the same time, rehearsing for a gig at a coffee house. When I hear 'I Write Sins Not Tragedies' by Panic! At The Disco, I'm transported back to being sixteen and driving down the streets of Hendersonville, Tennessee, with my best friend Abigail, euphorically screaming the lyrics. When I hear 'How to Save a Life' by The Fray, 'Breathe (2AM)' by Anna Nalick, or 'The Story' by Brandi Carlile, I immediately flashback to being seventeen and on tour for months on end. When I'd get a day at home in between long stretches on the road sharing a van with my band and crew, I would spend my rare nights off painting alone with candles lit in my room – just being alone with those songs (Those are all from the Grey's Anatomy soundtrack. My commitment to that show truly knows no bounds). I'm convinced that 'You Learn' by Alanis Morissette, 'Put Your Records On' by Corinne Bailey Rae and 'Why' by Annie Lennox have actually healed my heart after bad breakups or let downs.
I love writing songs because I love preserving memories, like putting a picture frame around a feeling you once had. I like to use nostalgia as inspiration when I'm writing songs for the same reason I like to take photographs. I like to be able to remember the extremely good and extremely bad times. I want to remember the color of the sweater, the temperature of the air, the creak of the floorboards, the time on the clock when your heart was stolen or shattered or healed or claimed forever.
The fun challenge of writing a pop song is squeezing those evocative details into the catchiest melodic cadence you can possibly think of. I thrive on the challenge of sprinkling personal mementos and shreds of reality into a genre of music that is universally known for being, well, universal. You'd think that as pop writers, we're supposed to be writing songs that everyone can sing along to, so you'd assume they would have to be pretty lyrically generic… AND YET the ones I think cut through the most are actually the most detailed, and I don't mean in a Shakespearean sonnet type of way, although I love Shakespeare as much as the next girl. Obviously. (See 'Love Story,' 2009).
In modern pop, songs/bops/chunes including extremely personal details like 'Kiki, do you love me' and 'Baby pull me closer in the backseat of your rover' have been breaking through on the most global cultural level. This year on tour, I got to hear stadium crowds passionately sing along to a young woman from Cuba singing about Havana.
I think these days, people are reaching out for connection and comfort in the music they listen to. We like being confided in and hearing someone say, 'this is what I went through' as proof to us that we can get through our own struggles. We actually do NOT want our pop music to be generic. I think a lot of music lovers want some biographical glimpse into the world of our narrator, a hole in the emotional walls people put up around themselves to survive. This glimpse into the artist's story invites us to connect it to our own, and in the best case scenario, allows us the ability to assign that song to our memories. It's this alliance between a song and our memories of the times it helped us heal, or made us cry, dance, or escape that truly stands the test of time. Just like a great book.
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